As the international community on Tuesday observed International Nurses Day, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has called more nurses in the Caribbean and the Americas to be trained to provide skilled care.
PAHO also urged that steps be taken to address what it described as inequities in nurse distribution and the problem of out-migration.
“Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean currently face shortages of nursing personnel, presenting an obstacle to achieving the goal of universal health access and coverage for all people in the Americas,” PAHO said.
Silvia Cassiani, PAHO’s regional advisor on nursing and health technicians, said nurses are “an important human resource for health,” stating that that nursing personnel make up 60 percent of the health workforce and cover 80 percent of healthcare needs.
“We have to do much more to train more professionals, to make sure they are distributed equitably according to the needs of the population, and to retain them in their workplaces,” she urged.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 23 doctors, nurses and midwives are needed for every 10,000 inhabitants to provide essential health services.
In the Americas, WHO said about 70 percent of countries have the number of personnel they need, or even more, “but they face challenges in their distribution and training.”
PAHO said while one-fourth of the world’s registered nurses are in the Americas, about 57 percent of these (nearly 3 million) are in North America.
Proportionally, there are 110.7 nurses per 10,000 inhabitants in North America but only 13.8 per 10,000 on average in Central and South America and the Caribbean, PAHO said.
It said out-migration has a “major impact on nursing human resources,” stating that the number of nurses from the English-speaking Caribbean who are working abroad is estimated to be three times the number of those working in the countries where they were trained.
PAHO lamented that about 42 percent of nursing positions in the English-speaking Caribbean are vacant due to out-migration.
“Establishing mechanisms to improve workforce retention and working conditions in public health services are among the measures that can reduce outmigration of health workers,” it said.
Other causes of nursing shortages include lack of access to quality education, excessive school dropout rates, poor curriculum content and teaching methods, lack of continuing education among professors, and poor political and administrative infrastructure in schools, PAHO said.
PAHO said it is working with countries throughout the region to promote nursing education and to strengthen capacity for producing, evaluating and using scientific evidence in nursing.
Additionally, it said it is also evaluating the situation of nursing human resources to promote adequate policies and plans and facilitate communication and dissemination of scientific information.